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The people wearing orange and walking through Newtown on June 2 held messages for National Gun Violence Awareness Day. One sign shared the message, “I walk for life.” Another read, “Enough! Stop gun violence.” And another read, “We demand a change.”
As dark clouds overhead signaled rain just before 5 pm on June 2, a group of roughly 100 people wearing orange gathered for a photograph on the steps of Shelton House on the Fairfield Hills campus. The photograph was taken for the start of the 3rd Annual Newtown #WearOrange March & Rally for National Gun Violence Awareness Day, recognized nationally on June 1. As the rain began to fall moments later, the group left to walk to Newtown Middle School. When it later returned to Shelton House for the rally, the group seemed to have swelled to roughly 200.
As announced by the Jr Newtown Action Alliance (Jr NAA), the group teamed up with Newtown Action Alliance (NAA), CT Against Gun Violence (CAGV), Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Sandy Hook Promise, Women’s March CT, and other allies to hold the event.
There was some confusion about where the march would start and where the rally would be held. As originally announced by the Jr NAA, the walk was set to start at Fairfield Hills and end at Edmond Town Hall with the rally, as had been done in past years. Different plans were announced on the Jr NAA Facebook page the morning of June 2, sharing the change to host the rally on the Fairfield Hills campus.
It took the group roughly an hour to walk from the Fairfield Hills campus to NMS and back for the rally. After everyone had arrived, Borough of Newtown Warden and Board of Finance Chair James Gaston read a proclamation from First Selectman Dan Rosenthal dedicating the day as Gun Violence Awareness Day.
Speakers at the rally included Newtown High School students and Jr NAA Co-Chairs Jackson Mittleman and Tommy Murray, US Senator Richard Blumenthal, NAA Vice Chair Dave Stowe, Alexa Tomassi of Sandy Hook Promise, CAGV Executive Director Jeremy Stein, and resident and Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America Faith Outreach Lead For Connecticut Barb Sibley.
When he spoke, Jackson thanked everyone for attending the event.
“To wear orange means more than just putting on a shirt,” Jackson said. “To wear orange is to acknowledge the epidemic of gun violence in our country. We wear orange to recognize we have more work to do, and we wear orange to make sure that the victims of this epidemic are not being forgotten.”
People were gathering across the country, Jackson said, in the hope of a future free of the society’s current dangers. Jackson explained the #WearOrange campaign started in 2013 after Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton was shot, and her friends began the campaign to raise awareness about gun violence.
“What started as a small group of friends sparked into a nationwide movement and outrage toward our nation’s crisis,” Jackson reflected. “Each and every person in the crowd right now can make a difference in the world around them. You can rally, you can lobby, you can march, and you can change the world.”
Tommy said Jr NAA was formed after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School to engage students in action to end gun violence in America. For the last 5½ years, the group has been working to hold protests and educational programs for youth, and it has had members participate in national events.
“We don’t want to be remembered as the mass shooting generation: We want to be remembered as the change makers who raised awareness about gun violence and changed the conversation,” Tommy said, to applause from the crowd. He added later, “We want to be remembered as the children who forced adults to do the right thing to pass sensible gun laws to reduce gun deaths and injuries in America.”
After Sen Blumenthal was introduced, he said, “There is nothing junior about the [Jr NAA]. You guys are giving us a lesson in democracy. This is what democracy looks like. This is what America looks like.”
Sen Blumenthal said he has never felt closer to national reform.
“We are in the midst of a new social change movement, much like the Civil Rights era, the anti-war era, the women’s healthcare era, and marriage equality [era],” said Sen Blumenthal. “You are at the tip of the spear, at the forefront of a new social change movement that will remake the laws of America. You’re going to do it.”
Saying he saw passion in the faces before him, Sen Blumenthal reflected that he knows the current movement will win.
“You will make America safer, and America will thank you,” said Sen Blumenthal, who later asked people to hold politicians accountable for their stances when voting in November.
Mr Stowe said NAA is working hard to support other groups, and the country “needs a comprehensive change on the legislative level, and we also need to change culture.” He asked those in attendance to put themselves in uncomfortable positions to make change by talking with friends and family members who may see things differently and to bring a friend to the next event they attend to get others involved.
“I’m tasking everyone here to do something uncomfortable to make change,” Mr Stowe said.
When she spoke, Ms Sibley asked those in attendance to get involved with one of the groups hosting the march and rally, to support a “gun sense candidate” through campaign efforts, and to vote alongside friends and family in November to “destroy the [National Rifle Association’s] iron grip on policymaking once and for all.”
“Humanity needs you,” Ms Sibley said.
Other members of Jr NAA shared the group has future efforts planned, like a June 9 fundraising effort set to be held at Super Stop & Shop on South Main Street.
“Change is a group effort,” said NHS student and Jr NAA board member Isabella Wakeman near the end of the rally.